Monday, February 26

40% Loss in St. Johns County Tree Canopy in Last 20 Years?

According to Global Forest Watch, St. Johns County clear cutting has resulted in a 40% reduction in the tree canopy from 2001 to 2022. I'm sure the hippy-dippy treehuggers with Global Forest Watch may overestimate as much as possible, but I'd wager the loss of forested areas in St. Johns County is significant. I guess the question is whether or not it matters.

In my home state of Wisconsin, about 85% of the state was forested when Europeans showed up, but by 1915, only 1% of the state had forests. Farms, cities, selling wood, etc. Today, the state is back up to nearly 50% forests. It turns out that not all forested land was useful a farmland, and you can't harvest trees for wood if there are no trees left. Even St. Johns County will likely never decide to clear cut 99% of the forest. The main difference is that today's clear cutting is to build wide roads and mini malls next to sprawling neighborhoods with pretend beaches and other amenities, not farms or factories.

My family farmed Wisconsin land for 150 years, providing food and milk from about 100 acres. The land was mostly deforested, even if there were a couple of "woods" on the property. But if my cousin decides to plant trees instead of crops, the forest would come back. I'm sure most of St. Johns forested land had already been deemed deficient for farming, so it's not like the new neighborhoods are taking farms away from feeding us. So it's more about what we want for our landscape as opposed to competing uses. The main consideration is that when a farm fails or sells, the trees can grow back, but neighborhoods don't quite work that way.

I'm not totally sure where I stand on this issue. Land is there for us if we need it, and restrictions like those in Oregon have proven to limit affordable housing while maintaining natural beauty. The problem around here is that our standards are non-existent, meaning developers build or use a narrow road as a single entrance to a huge neighborhood that adds congestion requiring wider roads that now also need gas stations and Walmarts because it takes 15 minutes just to get to the exit of the vast neighborhood, so roads are widened, traffic lights are added to intersections, and then more traffic signals are needed for the next neighborhood or commercial development or (heaven forbid) apartment complex, and suddenly there's an entirely new city made up of single-entrance neighborhoods and strip malls. But there's a Kilwins or Keke's, so everyone is happy. At least until the next mega-neighborhood gets built a mile down the road.

I guess what I'm saying is maybe a little bit of planning might help a lot in the long run. People live here in the long run, while developers only care about the short term.

No Property or Income Taxes?

Government needs money to run. In Florida, we already don't have all three of the kinds of taxes: income, property, and sales (maybe use tax is a fourth kind). As a state, we've decided to eliminate income tax, which makes Florida a safe-haven for top-earners and retirees, while shifting the tax burden to lower classes and tourists. Now, the legislature has a plan that seems to shift the tax burden even further in that direction by suggesting we eliminate property taxes.

The problem is that getting rid of taxes doesn't make government cheaper. It just shifts the burden. In Jacksonville, for example, we just added to our property tax burden by voting to give teachers and the arts a pay hike in Duval schools (and probably charter schools). A property tax elimination, even if it's capped, will lead to huge deficits unless huge fees placed on others. 

My house is probably about the average home in Jacksonville. I pay about $3,000 in property taxes. Let's say an average of 4 people per household in Jacksonville, meaning 250,000 households in a city of a million. That's $750,000,000. Gone. So we double the sales tax. The fat cat who winters along the intracoastal and claims Florida citizenship will pay $0 income taxes and $0 property taxes on his multi-million dollar home, but I guess he'll chip in when he invest that same $30,000 (his current property taxes) at Home Depot to upgrade the sink in his 7th powder room. Problem is, the government would only get a portion of that $30,000. Even if we add an insane sales tax of 10%, that's only $3,000 of the original $30k, and what if he doesn't upgrade the powder room? There's no evidence that rich folks can possibly buy enough Porsches to make up for not paying income or property taxes, even if they will now be able to afford more Porsches.

Wednesday, February 14

I Think I'm a Slave to my Pest Control Company

State lawmakers are considering eliminating property taxes in Florida. The argument that's been used is that once you pay off your house, you should be free of all expenses, so charging people property taxes makes them slaves. I know, it's pretty silly. Even if you pay off your house and decide to self-insure, you're still going to need power and water. Plus, you probably want parks, schools, and roads. And even if you do self-insure, you'll eventually need a roof when it starts leaking. And if you refuse to pay HOA fees, they will take your house. So most of are basically slaves to our homes, and eliminating the property tax won't fix that. The talk of being bound to my house and a recent pest-control fee increase reminds me that I'm just as enslaved by my termite bond as any other home responsibility.

We bought a house that was crawling with cockroaches. That should be surprising, since the previous owner had, according to my contract, paid for a yearly termite service since the house was built (generally comes with other pest services). Anyhow, we inherited the termite bond, which is apparently good for as long as we keep paying. And we have really, really kept paying. I think we've had two increases in price along with a decrease in yearly treatments (from four to three). But we really are stuck if we want to keep the security of knowing we won't get termites (or at least someone else will pay for repairs). No one has checked the traps or treated specifically for termites in years, but my contract and my yearly renewal of it implies I'm still covered. But it keeps me from pricing other companies or even walking away from what I see as a bit of an extravagance: I'm sure we could deal with handling most of our own pest issues with sprays and traps, but I'm just not sure about termites. So I'm paying close to $1,000 a year for three visits from a guy who spends about 20 minutes spraying a chemical around my house. Think about that hourly rate. And if I consider the fact that I only pay about 3x that for my property taxes, I'd say paying for government services is a better deal by a long shot.

Friday, January 5

Walmart Gatekeeper Attempts to Own Customer, Fails

I'm sure he was bored. The big shopping rush for the day was over, and a few stragglers (like me) we're getting their curbside deliveries after 9pm. He was also trying to impress his friends and/or the fine ladies working the delivery area. I understand. The guy is probably fun at football parties, but this is his actual job: answer the phone and deliver the items. Instead, I got amateur night at the Apollo.

I'm pretty sure it began with an answer that wasn't part of the script, since I was a bit put-off from the start. Probably something like, "What ya need?" Or maybe it was just the tone of voice. I don't remember exactly, and not a big deal. I told him I was there for my order. Brian (last name). We'll say it sounds like Flagler. Our comedian comes back with, "Brian Vinegar?" I could hear some muffled laughter. In all my years of having a somewhat difficult name, not one person has gone with Vinegar. Plus, I've never seen it as a last name, so it's probably some game that's played at Walmart to seemingly mis-hear last names and replace the name with some random item from the shelves. Like if your last name was Tebow, but the employee says Teabag or T-bone. Or last name Allen but he says Allegra. I guess it's entertaining in a very limited way.

I knew the guy was playing around, so I wasn't too surprised, after spelling out my last name, that he asked if it was Brian with a y or an i. Of course, he already had the package in front of him, and he probably knows how annoyed those of us spelled the right way get when asked if it's with a y. I suppose if my last name had been "Vinegar," it might have been Brian with a y because if you already have a stupid last name, you might as well make it official with a random consanant acting as a vowel in your first name.

Anyhow, at the end of the call, when the comedian moonlighting as Walmart employee said he'd be right out, I told him to bring out some of his good drugs. That surprised him. 

I was kidding, of course. Walmart probably doesn't carry really good drugs.

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